Friday, 3 March 2017

Straw-headed Bulbul...a closer look.

Update at end of post.

Following my trip to Malaysia last year, I got a real interest to learn more about the Straw-headed Bulbuls we'd seen. They have become incredibly rare in the last 10-15 years. We were very lucky and saw at least 5 or 6 individuals (including a group of three) in Taman Negara, probably the oldest lowland rain-forest on earth. I have to say they left quite an impression with their beautiful melodic song and their showy plumage (for a Bulbul). All part of their downfall.

Straw-headed Bulbul - one of a handful seen in Malaysia
Very rare and sadly on the decline.

The reason they have become endangered (IUCN Red List sp the species raised from 'Vulnerable' to 'Endangered' in Dec 2016), perhaps not surprisingly, is because of man. We seem to have a habit of screwing things up in the natural world and the Straw-headed Bulbul is just one of a long list of species who are knocking on extinction's door because of our greed and ignorance. Once plentiful, there are now an estimated 600-1700 individuals left in the wild scattered over Peninsula Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. In fact Birdlife International estimates that because the existing populations are so fragmented, it is unlikely any one of them can support more than 250 mature birds and the entire population is decreasing. Collected for the cage bird industry and feeling the effects of habitat loss, one wonders how much longer the species will survive. Will the last Straw-headed Bulbul be a miserable specimen locked up in the cage of a private collection somewhere?

The saddest thing is that on the face of it there doesn't seem to be much that we can do to stop its demise. Everywhere I traveled in Malaysia there were palm oil plantations, some stretching as far as the eye can see. The only areas not effected are mountain slopes where the machinery to clear and plant cannot reach. Perhaps checking palm oil products come from sustainable sources will help but not growing palm oil would be even better, a big economic issue to be overcome. Whether palm oil or cage bird industry, it all comes back to money and greed and it seems we are prepared to wipe another species off the face of the planet to get it. Pulau Ubin and Singapore remain one of the species' best hopes for survival. You can see it, hear its bubbly song and learn more about the conservation efforts being made to save this incredible bird on YouTube.

UPDATE: Seems this post was very well timed and relevant. Shortly after publishing on 17 Feb there has been quite a lot in social media on this subject, including the following:

In addition, there is an interesting paper recently published by Muhammad S Khan on the defaunation taking place in Pakistan at the moment. It could just as easily be talking about the situation in many other parts of the world:

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